Fanaka Ndege popularly known as Fanaka Nation is a Kenyan US-based rapper, content creator, and businessman. He is the proprietor of Tamu Grill, a restaurant serving Kenyan-themed dishes in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
The restaurant was previously known as Kilimanjaro Grill before it rebranded to Tamu Grill and switched locations to occupy a 117-year-old building at the heart of the US city. The vacant had been vacant since 2018 after the former tenant closed shop. Fanaka runs the business with the help of his family.
Fanaka is a recording artist with studio albums under his name. He has won awards for his endeavours in music and creative arts in the State of Minnesota. Here is his story as told by WoK.
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Background & Education
The rapper grew up in Elk River, Minnesota with his Kenyan parents. Early in his life, his parents moved a lot within Minnesota, so he was always the new kid in most schools he attended.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Fanaka attended Elk River High School and later proceeded to Anoka-Ramsey Community College. He pursued Arts with an Emphasis in Creative Writing.
He developed a passion for hip hop from a young age, noting that it connects very many people.
“I started freestyle rapping at my middle school cafeteria and even rap battling my peers for clout. From there my dad booked me studio time & I made my first song called “Bop”. I burned cd’s with that one song on each album and handed out copies in the hallway. From there I released more singles until finally I put out my first EP (extended play) titled “PLAN BE”. Spelled “BE” and not in relation at all to “plan b” birth control,” he told VoyageMinnesota during an interview in March 2022.
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After high school, Fanaka doubled down on music as a career and began doing shows. He would be paid for various gigs and seized the opportunity to get his content known by the general public.
His first break came when he did an Afropop remix of American rapper Cardi B’s hit song, “I Like it”. It exposed him to a bigger audience and more paid shows.
“Since then, I’m grateful to say I’ve experienced milestones like being named “Top 10 artists to listen to from Minnesota” by TheCurrent, headlined Minnesota’s historic venue First Avenue twice (drawing in a nearly sold-out crowd each time), performed with rapper Soulja Boy, appeared on some of the top tv shows in Africa (including The Churchill Show, 10 over 10, & The Nation), winner of “Best New Artist” in 2018 via the Diaspora Awards in Dallas, Texas, released my latest album titled “Culture Rap I: AfroTrap”, and more,” he stated.
Despite having been in the industry for a couple of years now, Fanaka believes that his best is yet to come and has no plans of slowing down his music ambitions.
“Although I’ve been doing music for over 10 years, I feel as if I’m just beginning in this game. In the words of one of my favorite rappers Nipsey Hussle “the marathon continues”.
“Thank you to resources in Minnesota like VoyageMinnesota for showing love to creatives like me that are representing for the 612,” Fanaka stated.
He notes that the music industry has its challenges, especially with many people having to tell him “no” but his persistence and determination keeps him going.
Being an independent artist, he uses his own money to fund projects. Some of those expenses include recording studio time, music video shoots, advertisements, stage dancers, graphic designers, and more.
Fanaka believes that music is more than an art but a business.
“My style is something I call “Culture Rap”. It’s a fusion of Hip Hop, African, & other world sounds. Something new but something that many people can see parts of themselves in. In my music, you can hear references about Minnesota, Africa, Asia, & the diasporic experience in America,” he explains.
Fanaka hopes to see the lack of a music industry in Minneapolis improve.
“We have resources such as podcasts and radio shows but the support from our own city is not adequate (yet).
“Music consumers in Minneapolis still mostly listen to rappers outside of our state. This includes music lovers in Minneapolis tuning into platforms like podcasts & radio shows located in other states instead of their own state,” he notes.
Tamu Grill recently occupied a building that was constructed in 1905. It was inhabited by Viking Bar since 1959 but closed shop after 4 years. The bar attempted to reopen in 2016 but closed again in 2018.
Beefore settling on the Landmark building for the restaurant, Fanaka and his family conducted trial runs in the months of November and December 2021.
“It’s been cool meeting people in the community. I feel like half the time when people come in, it’s a college student walking around campus just curious to try something new.
“From my understanding, we’re the only Kenyan restaurant in the city,” Fanaka stated.
The restaurant’s kitchen is headed by Chef George ‘Jojo’ Ndege. He prepares East African cuisines including Ugali, samosas, and mandazi among others.
Chef Jojo notes that he drawns inspiration for his food from his cultural experience in Kenya. He is determined to give people in the US a taste of East Africa through his cooking.
“I do this because I am passionate about making flavorful food that many can enjoy. I believe food is a great way of sharing cultures, elevating positive human interaction, and cultivating new friendships. I grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, where I was exposed to Kenyan, Indian, and Middle Eastern food. I learned to make West African food at a restaurant I previously worked, my spouse is from Southeast Asia, and I now call Minnesota home.
“So, while my primary influence is Kenyan cooking, I incorporate all these other cultures that I have been privileged to be part of to create dishes that are uniquely a Chef Jojo creation and truly cross-cultural,” Jojo stated.